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The undisputed master of giallo horror cinema, Italian provocateur Dario Argento has had a long and storied career rife with controversy and no shortage of exceptional horror films. Though some of his best films and most well-known films—The Bird with the Crystal Plumage,Suspiria, and Infernoamong others—are mostly skinless affairs, there's nudity to be found in a great number of his efforts. His films are tied together bytheir staunchlyapolitical, amoral, and almost coldly disconnected moments of shocking violence. In a way, he's trying to distance himself from the awful things he depicts so gleefully on screen, and oftentimes he succeeds in doing so.

His mastery of technicolor photography is also a key selling point of many of his films of the 1970s. He's another filmmaker that wears his influences on his sleeve, whether it's the deliberate callbacks to Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast in Suspiria(below) or his frequent nods to Hitchcock—mostly in his early work—he's a delight for cinephiles that love spotting referential scenes. His work throughout the 70s is a veritable goldmine of references to classic horror.

Argento's physical look is also a key part of his mystique in much the same way it is a part of, say, John Waters' persona. He looks not unlike one of the four fascist libertines in Pasolini's Salò, a look that helps to prepare anyone familiar with that reference for the kind of films Argento produced—though none of his films are as nihilistic as that one. An excellent documentary available on YouTube and titled "An Eye For Horror" is a great entry point for anyone new to the filmmaker, and that title truly means what it says. Argento's eye for picturization, composition, and his mise en scène are second to none in the genre.

A major theme throughout Argento's work is the brutal murder of beautiful women. Yes, plenty of men bite the dust in his films, but there's something about the way Argento lovingly shoots women being subjected to all manner of bloody deaths that really makes him stand out. It's something Brian De Palma was similarly criticized for throughout his career. Also, much like another director we've already covered in Paul Schrader, Argento started his career as a film critic. It was Italian master Sergio Leone that gave Dario his first big break, co-writing Once Upon a Time in the Westwith future candidate for a SKIN-depth look, Bernardo Bertolucci.

Argento also has a very strange familial dynamic at play in his work beginning around the time daughter Asia comes of age and begins appearing in his films starting with 1993's Trauma. Yes, she technically made her debut in one of dad's films at age 14 with 1989's The Church, but it's the fact that she goes nude in almost all of her subsequent appearances in his films that makes their relationship so... shall we say, Italian.

Let's go back to the beginning, or close to the beginning anyway, to unlock the mysteries of sex and nudity in Dario Argento's films.

The Cat O'Nine Tails

Argento's second feature film and the middle film in his "animal trilogy"—followingBird with the Crystal Plumageand preceding Four Flies on Grey Velvetis this old school influenced horror film starring Karl Malden and James Franciscus, a Chuck Heston lookalike best knownfor replacing the actoras the lead astronaut in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. While some, myself included, find the film inferior to the two that surround it in his filmography, it's still got a lot of Argento hallmarks.

Workingagain with musical legend Ennio Morricone—the second of their five collaborations—Argento falls into a comfortable rhythm with the composer, who gives us one of his most lush and memorable scores, including the famous woodwind heavy main theme. Thereare also plenty of stylish kills in the film, with Argento more overt in his displays of violence than he was in Bird with the Crystal Plumage, where much of the violence was implied.

It also brought Argento's first nude scene, courtesy of the lovely Catherine Spaak, who disrobes for Franciscus in what would become one of Argento's favorite types of nude scene...

The film itself is something of a dud with all its talk of "chromosome alteration" and poisoned milk, but there's no shortage of style on display from Argento. Though he later claimed it was one of his least favorite films, it's an essential part of anyone's expanded interest in the director's work.

The Five Days of Milan

For his fourth film, Argento would take his first—and to date, only—step outside of the horror/thriller genre to create this comedy known in Italy as Le cinque giornate.Italian screen legend Adriano Celentano—best known for his crossover 60s pop hit "Prisencolinensinainciusol"—stars asa dim-witted thief who pairs up with an equally dense baker (Enzo Cerusico) as they become witness to the 1848 Italian revolution.

Italian siren Marilù Tolomakes the biggest impression here with her bodice that is clearly too small to contain her breasts, causing them to pop out...

The film itself isminor Argento at best, proof that his style didn't thrive outside of horror. Not to bring this comparison up too often, but this was the sort of movie Pasolini could've made in his sleep. Argento may not have been the chameleon he desired early in his career, but discovering horror to be his forte was a boon for audiences as he began a run to close out the 70s that includes his best work behind the camera.

Deep Red

A SKIN-depth Look at the Baroque Sexuality of Dario Argento's Films

The typical rule surrounding most of Argento's films is to not try and make too much sense of the story and just enjoy the visuals. Profondo rosso is one of the ones where that rule doesn't apply. The story here rises to meet the expert visuals on display, creating what is arguably Argento's finest film.

The late David Hemmings—most famous for playing paranoid photographer Thomas inAntonioni's Blow-Up—stars as Marcus Daly, a pianist who witnesses the ghastly murder of a psychic (Macha Méril). This sends him on an odyssey into a world of murder and deception which harbors some of the best ambiance and moments of suspense in Argento's entire filmography.

In addition to being undeniably one of his best films, it is also one of Argento's most referential works with homages ranging from the 1946 film The Spiral Staircaseto the famous painting "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper. He even has a bit of fun homagingAntonioni'sBlow-Upand Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. As all great films do, it has also become a reference point for other films like Scanners, Halloween II, and the Saw films—thanks to that creepy ass puppet.

It's also fitting that the film's only nudity comes from a woman who has just been murdered in gruesome fashion. Macha Méril's psychic meets an untimely end just shy of the 20 minute mark, and we see her left breast as Hemmings helps her off the shattered window used in her murder...

You can see the, pardon the pun, deep red color that Argento loved when displaying blood. This is, inarguably, his least sexy nude scene with no titillation to be gained from it. And that's not a knock against Ms. Méril, who shot at least a half dozen more terrific topless scenes over the course of her career, including one ten years later inAgnes Varda's Vagabond...

A SKIN-depth Look at the Baroque Sexuality of Dario Argento's Films


Spun out of life-threatening phone calls and letters the director received from crazed "fans," Argento's 1982 film marked a return to full-on giallo following his more supernatural works Suspiria and Inferno. Not released in the US until two years later, Tenebrae tells the tale of an American horror novelist (AnthonyFranciosa) who travels to Italy to promote his latest novel, and finds himself and his inner circle threatenedby an anonymous murderer.

The twist ends up being that the author himself is the culprit of the murder spree, and he finds himself felled in the end by his own assistant Anne, played byArgento's partner, Daria Nicolodi. Whatever sort of Freudian read you want to make of all this is likely valid and you could go in several different directions attempting to decipher Argento's thesis statement.

The lesbian undertones thatpopulated the dance academy ofSuspiriaexplode here as overtones, with Mirella Banti locking lips withMirella D'Angelo at the 24 minute mark, with the pair paying for their promiscuity at the hands of the killer seven minutes later. Thankfully we get one last look at Mirella Banti's magnificent breasts before she bites the dust...

Here we also getanotherof Argento's favorite brand of nude scene, the seductive disrobing, this time courtesy of Eva Robins...

While not officially scored by Goblin as his previous efforts Deep Red and Suspiria were, three of the four band members (Claudio Simonetti, Massimo Morante, and Fabio Pignatelli) returned to compose the film's soundtrack. Tenebraeis also perhaps best remembered for being a part of the original list of Video Nasties from the UK, though the film was eventually passed without cuts in 2003. It is also widely regarded as one of Argento's finest films,andis also noted as one of his most unbridled and erotic films. Yes, it's definitely got some disturbing moments, but it's also sexy as fuck...


The proudest day in any horndog Italian director's life is the day his daughter turns 18 and he can legally begin sexualizing her on film. Asia Argento—daughter to Dario and his writing partner/frequent starDaria Nicolodi—makes her nude debut here.One of only two films Argento shot in America, the elder Argento cast the younger as a woman who escapes from a psychiatric hospital, only to find everyone close to her being murdered by decapitation.

The American producers rejected Argento's notion to use Goblin for the soundtrack, opting instead for a more standard symphonic score by frequent Brian De Palma collaborator Pino Donaggio. As a result, the film feels as much like minor De Palma as it does minor Argento, thanks in no small part to the film's themes of matricide and mad doctors.

Papa Argento, however, wastes no time getting daughter Asia topless just 28 minutes into the film...

It offers her character up as an alternative to the final girl, one who actively tempts a young man with her naked body, but doesn't act on it any further. It's okay because said young man has a girlfriend—played by Laura Johnson—who puts out andlater turns vindictive when viewing Asia's character as a threat to their relationship...

The film does offer some nice effects work courtesy of master visual effects artist Tom Savini, and horror veterans Piper Laurie and Brad Dourif turn in appropriately pitched performances, but the film never rises aboveits rather rote set-up. It's mostly notable for featuring Argento's daughter's topless debut, though I would rank it above his other 90s efforts like The Stendhal Syndrome orPhantom of the Opera, also featuring Asia nude.

Interesting footnote: Daria Nicolodi never went nude in one of Dario's films,but she did go nudetwice in her career: First inElio Petri's Marxist farceLa Proprietà non è più un furto, and then in Mario Bava's 1977 flick Shock.


The closest we've gotten to a "return to form" film from Argento this century is this detective thriller starring Max von Sydow. A series of murders decades apart brings the detective who originally investigated them out of retirement to catch the killer. He teams with Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi), a man whose mother was murdered in the first killing spree, and who uncovers the killer as his childhood friend.

While dismissed by many critics at the time as a retread of his earlier films like Cat O'Nine Tails, time has been much kinder to Sleepless, which plays like a director struggling to bring new form to the same old content. It's not totally successful, but it's better than much of his cgi-riddled work to come.In a nude scene that almost instantly dates the film to the late 20th, early 21st century, the beautiful Barbara Lerici shows off her implants, along witha hairy but neatly maintained bush, just three minutes into the flick...

Sadly this was Argento's final collaboration with Goblin, a true loss for all of Argento's future films, though the band's keyboardist Claudio Simonetti would continue working with the director on future endeavors. Thisfilm also suffers from heavy editing here in the U.S., with no official director's cut of the film ever being released here—Artisan'sout of print DVDfeatures over a minute of footage cut across most of the film's most violent scenes. Thankfully most European disc releases feature the film's director's cut, except for a 2013 German blu-ray that features a version even more heavily censored than the American version.

Mother of Tears

The third part of Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy—following Suspiria and Inferno—this 2007 effort reunites father and daughter for the sixth time. Following the introduction ofMater Suspiriorum and Mater Tenebrarum, here we meetMater Lacrymarum (Moran Atias), the final Mother of Sorrow who is brought back to corporeal form while in the care of American art curation studentSarah (Asia Argento).

It isn't long before Sarah is revealed to be the daughter of a white witch and therefore destined to bring down Mater Lacrymarum... or something. This is a muddled mess of a movie with some nice imagery and two great set pieces, but a whole lot of thumb twiddling down time and enough witchcraft mumbo jumbo to make a Bible Study's worth of people's heads explode.

I suppose the most disconcerting thing here, however, is the way Dario lovingly shoots his daughter naked in the shower. I mean, there's shooting nude scenes with your daughter and then there's this...

The film's cast is mostly interchangeable, save the great Udo Kier—who has never met a monologue he couldn't deliver with a mouthful of scenery—as well as a thoroughly committed performance fromMoran Atias, who plays Mater Lacrymarum to the hilt. She remains dedicated and hammy till the very end, delivering some last minute nudity as her world literally collapses around her...

It's probably not the conclusion most hoped for in the 27 year gap between films two and three in the trilogy, but it does go all out in the end. A lot of this unevenness is likely due to the many script revisions that took place over the years, with Daria Nicolodi's original script being tossed almost wholesale in favor of one written and re-written by Argento and a group of scribes over several years. For many Argento fans, him failing to stick the landing on this trilogy signaled the beginning of the end.

Dracula 3D

Asia and Dario's final collaboration to date was on this gothic romantic horror film designed to capitalize on the 3D craze of the early 2010s. Sadly, it failed to capitalize on anything, including its absolutely savage and scathing reviews from its Cannes Film Festival premiere. Anyone watching this film can spot what's wrong with it immediately, from the horrible sound design to the bargain basement costuming and set design to the horrendous ADR dubbing of virtually every actor on screen.

It's a mess of a film, and the 3D only calls attention to it. Thankfully the film is front-loaded with nudity, sometimes to its own detriment, as Miriam Giovanelli goes nude, has sex with a guy, and then gets bitten by Dracula before we even find out who the hell she is. Spoiler alert, we kinda never really do...

There is nothing about this film which indicates Argento directed it, apart from the nudity. He shoots one of his famous disrobing scenes as the now converted to vampireMiriam Giovanelli attempts to seduce Jonathan Harker...

And later, his daughter appears nude, almost by contractual obligation. As Lucy, Asia Argento shares the most chemistry with best friend Mina (Marta Gastini), especially in their sexually charged sponge bath scene...

Outside of that, there's no indication this is a Dario Argento film. I expected the walls to be oozing blood and expected to find excess in no short supply. Instead we get some of the most laughably bad cgi creations in a major motion picture, from giant praying mantises to owls that wouldn't be out of place in Zack Snyder's Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

The whole thing feels like an afterthought to everyone involved, with Thomas Kretschmann floundering as the title vampire. He seems desperate to distance himself from previous on-screen Dracs, and does so only by giving us the most unappealingly dull king of the vampires yet. Even Rutger Hauer'ssomnambulantperformance as Van Helsing can't lift the final thirty minutes of the film, though congratulations can be extended to anyone not already checked out by the time he rolls in well past the one hour mark.

Simply put, there's nothing here that wasn't done better by Francis Ford Coppola in his 1992 adaptation. Yes, even Keanu in that movie is better than this film's Jonathan Harker, played by Spanish actor Unax Ugalde. Hopefully Argento makes another film because this would be a rather inauspicious conclusion to an otherwise brilliant career.

I'm still not sure what to make of the casualness with which he films his daughter naked, which is something of a roadblock for me as a father to two girls. I'm not puritanical, by any stretch of the imagination, but that just seems like a bridge too far for me. What do you guys think? Is that the least of your problems with Argento's films post-1990? Sound off in the comments section below!

Amazon Links for Argento's Films Covered in This Article: Cat O'Nine Tails, The Five Days of Milan, Deep Red, Tenebrae, Mother of Tears, Dracula. Sleepless and Trauma only available on Out of Print DVD in North America.

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Paul Verhoeven